After Laos being somewhat of a whirlwind, we were excited to move on to Vietnam and stuff our faces with tons of bahn mi's and drink too much Vietnamese coffee! What else were we excited for? Finally being in a country that housed miles and miles of beautiful beaches.
Sadly, before we went to Vietnam, we had heard some mixed reviews about the country as a whole. The people aren't that nice. All anyone wants to do is sell you stuff. The buses and transportation are less than ideal. The food isn't all it's cracked up to be. The beaches aren't that great. Well...shoot. That's not something you want to read the night before you board a flight to Hanoi, Vietnam! With all of those things lingering in the back of our minds, we just decided that we were going to develop our own opinions and see the country through rose colored glasses.
Well yes, some of those things were true BUT it was also incredibly beautiful, very peaceful (when we weren't on sleeper buses) and we managed to seek out some amazing food! As with everything, you take the good with the not so good, right? Beautiful beaches will outweigh pushy AirBnb hosts, a really awesome hostel will beat a bus driver that smokes on the bus (but seriously??? Who does that?!), delicious soups replace mediocre sandwiches and fun cities like Hanoi and Hoi An will make you fall in love with Vietnam as a whole.
As I sit in Bali dreaming of the beautiful beaches that surround us, I am reminded of what it felt like to finally reach the oceans edge in Cat Ba Island, Vietnam. Having been inland for about a month and a half, we were all itching to feel the sand between our toes and the salt on our skin so the relief that we felt when we saw the crashing waves felt like a crashing wave of calm flood over us. Pretty much from that point on, we decided that we didn't want to spend too much time that far from the beach for the rest of our Southeast Asia trip. After a brief stay in the crazy and lovely city of Hanoi and a 2-day stay in Phong Nha visiting the national park, we made our way down to the coastal town of Hoi An where we stayed for one wonderful week.
Something unexpected we realized about Vietnam is that they've got some incredible and unique hostels! ...other than the one that smelled heavily of mold but I'll spare you those details. We were under the impression that most hostels were full of "summer camp" style bunk beds, dirty showers, stinky rooms, and the relentless bed bug. However, In the Phong Nha national park where we trekked through dark caves, zip-lined, kayaked and had the most incredible time swimming through mud that ranged in consistency from delicious milk chocolate fondue, to Snack-Pack chocolate pudding (the most satisfying feeling I think I have ever experienced), we stayed in a lively and fun hostel called Easy Tiger. This place was the bees-knees and everyone in Phong Nha knew it! Every night, there was a flood of people there for an early evening dip in the pool, live music, happy hour, and a delicious dinner. Thinking it couldnt get much better than that, we had semi low expectations for our next hostel in Hoi An. Well, remember I said we spent one wonderful week there? Not only was Hoi An our favorite place thus far in Asia because of its charming night life, beautiful lantern lit streets, and white sandy beach...but Paddys Hostel was also our favorite place we've stayed! It was quaint, had a beautiful pool, a fun staff and free bikes. Who can argue with that? Way to go Vietnam, your hostel game is strong.
It is true...in Vietnam, we mostly felt just like walking dollar signs so everyone was trying to sell us this tour, and that dress, and their cousins taxi, and their mothers bracelets. It was exhausting and frustrating at the same time but we couldn't expect them to know that we are in no shape for souvenir buying. With that being said, we also met some really kind people! I personally like to think more about those people and their willingness to help or explain things we might not understand while in their country over the pushy and sometimes rude people. Not so ironically, we met lots of kind people while enjoying local food. I feel like food casts a "happy spell" on everyone and just brings people together, am I right?! Like the girl in Hanoi who explained exactly how to eat the local soup and took time to give us some insight to her city...and then told us where to get the best ice cream! Or the people at the little restaurant on the corner that served us up some type of meatloaf, French fry, gravy deliciousness that we just can't forget about. And the spring roll lady who taught us how to roll our own spring rolls like a champ! I may be slightly biased because they were serving us food so I'm willing to look past all faults when delicious food is in front of me, but I personally thought that the people of Vietnam were quite kind...and they make some incredible dishes!
Aside from enjoying our 2 weeks in Vietnam, we also made some big decisions while we were there. We had grand plans to visit Cambodia, Singapore and Malaysia but with the weight of traveling quickly and staying in places for a short amount of time coming down on us, we were all beginning to feel tired and overwhelmed. As we honed in on what we wanted to get out of our experience in Asia, we realized that we all sought out moments of peace, adventure, eating good food and gazing at beautiful beaches. So, as we all pooled together our ideas, thoughts and desires, we came to the conclusion to take the last 3 months of our time in Asia slowly and intentionally. We ruled out a few countries and decided to spend 3 weeks on the Thai Islands, 2 months in Bali and 2-3 weeks in the Philippines. I really can't express how excited I am to get to know these places more and on a deeper level because up until this point in Asia, I felt as if we were just skimming the surface of different places and not taking the time to get to know beautiful cities long enough. And id be lying if I said that the fact that we haven't had the opportunity to be in a kitchen and cook in 2 months isn't driving me completely and insanely crazy! We need to get in the kitchen, chop some veggies, blast some music, heat up the grill, and get cookin' before we all lose our minds. Not to mention that fact that Sean and Taylor are totally stoked to get barreled and to surf their brains out in Bali! - (that's me trying to do "surfer talk" if you couldn't tell...). I don't think Kaila and I will see much of them for those 2 months.
I have been saying this from the beginning of our trip, but time really is flying by. 2 months until our time in Asia is over and we fly back to Italy for one last "hoo-rah" with my family before loading up our backpacks and heading back to the states. 1 year...where have you gone?!